Jerry Frecon, agricultural agent with the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station in Clayton, said growers won’t likely have to do battle with a new pest until June this year.
That’s a glass-half-full interpretation of the industry’s war on the brown marmorated stink bug. The half-empty take is that last year, growers didn’t have to deal with the pest until the end of the season but will have to work on it earlier this year.
But either way you look at it, it is not a fight growers look forward to. Still, Frecon is taking a cautiously optimistic approach.
“I don’t think it will be as bad because it sort of caught us by surprise last year,” he said.
Since the end of last season, considerable work has been done trying to find the right chemicals to fight the bug’s spread, Frecon said.
“It’s a tough pest,” he said. “It’s very mobile, it moves in and out and it has a voracious appetite. It attacks every fruit crop we have, many vegetables, field corn, ornamentals.”
Also, Frecon said, it’s not a pest that flies under the radar. People who read or hear about New Jersey crops fighting for their lives against marmorated stink bugs aren’t likely to be surprised.
“It’s a nuisance pest for consumers,” he said. “Everybody’s house is full of them.”
Even though they didn’t show up until late in the season, stink bugs took out up to 30% of the Garden State’s peach and apple crops, Frecon said.
They weren’t as big of a problem for blueberries, Frecon said, but that’s because the blueberry season was mostly over before the infestation began.
“We didn’t see large numbers until August,” he said. “I don’t have a good sense of what we’ll see in blueberries this year.”
Blueberries harvested in mid-June may escape damage, he said. Strawberries harvested in New Jersey in May had shown no signs of stink bug damage, he said.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture is hardly flush with funds as the state battles deficit problems, but a new fruit entomologist position has been added with the express purpose of tackling stink bug, Frecon said.
Interviews were ongoing in May for the position, which will focus on protecting peaches, apples and, to a lesser extent, wine grapes, Frecon said.
Justine Cook, technical specialist for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey, Hillsborough, is encouraged by work by federal and state officials to find organic-friendly solutions to the stink bug problem.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and at Rutgers University have had success with parasites that attack stink bug eggs, Cook said.
Rutgers researchers have developed pheromone traps for the pests, she said.
“It’s very encouraging,” Cook said of the new research.
New Jersey blueberry growers aren’t overly worried about stink bugs, said Tim Wetherbee, sales manager for Diamond Blueberry Inc., Hammonton, N.J.
Not yet, anyway.
“It hasn’t been a concern thus far,” he said. “It’s something we want to keep abreast of, but it’s not an issue at this point in time.”